The China-South Korea Spat and the Tradition of China’s Anti-Foreign Boycotts

800px-Korea-Gwangju_5254-07_Lotte_Department_Store

South Korea’s Lotte Department Store (photo by Steve46814 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Lotte Group’s development in the Chinese market should come to an end”, wrote the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece Global Times on February 28, one day after the South Korean conglomerate approved a land swap deal that allowed the government in Seoul to deploy a controversial US missile defence system.

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, as it is officially known, is designed to protect South Korea from a possible attack by the North Korean Communist regime. Beijing, however, opposes the THAAD deployment, arguing that it would compromise “regional strategic equilibrium” and jeopardize China’s strategic security.

The Chinese government can do little to prevent the implementation of the US-South Korean military agreement, unless it is willing to risk a war over the issue. Therefore, Beijing has resorted to a strategy that has been repeatedly used in China over the past century to react to what it perceives as foreign aggression: boycotts. Continue reading

China and the May 4th Movement

chinese_protestors_march_against_the_treaty_of_versailles_28may_42c_191929

Protesters march against the Treaty of Versailles in Beijing, May 1919 (Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

“When the May Fourth Movement took place in 1919, I was only sixteen years old, a student at the Tianjin Women’s Normal College”, wrote Deng Yingchao (邓颖超/ 鄧穎超; pinyin: Dèng Yǐngchāo) years after the events. “On May 4, 1919 students in Beijing held a demonstration asking the government to refuse to sign the Versailles Peace Treaty and to punish the traitors at home. In their indignation, they burned the house at Zhaojialou and beat up Lu Zhongxiang, then Chinese envoy to Japan. The following day, when the news reached Tianjin, it aroused the indignation of students there who staged their own demonstration on May 7th. They began by organizing such patriotic societies … We had no political theory to guide us at that time, only our strong patriotic enthusiasm. In addition to the Beijing students’ requests, we demanded, ‘Abrogate the Twenty-One Demands!’ ‘Boycott Japanese Goods!’ and ‘Buy Chinese-made goods!’ Furthermore, we emphatically refused to become slaves to foreign powers!” (quoted in: Patricia Buckley Ebrey: Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook, p. 360).

The protests of May 1919 marked the beginning of Deng Yingchao’s involvement in politics. Later she joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and married Zhou Enlai. Like Deng Yingchao, thousands of students throughout China, moved by patriotic fervour and the desire to change their country, took part in the demonstrations. The social and political movement that ensued marked the beginning of mass politics in post-revolutionary China.

In the present article, we shall briefly examine the origin and development of the May Fourth Movement, as well as its consequences for China’s political life. Continue reading

China at War – The Story of Teng Chan

united_china_relief_1

World War II propaganda poster (by Martha Sawyers, United China Relief. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The following story from a book published in 1945 offers a fascinating insight into the life and mentality of ordinary people in wartime China. 

[Teng Chan] saw the beginning of the war as a bachelor in Shang-hai and Nanking, met and fell in love with a girl, and was married, lived through the worst of the bombing in Chung-king and is now the father of two children.

Working in a Chinese government office he is one among thousands of public functionaries. Before the war, he was a prosperous young member of the middle class; but, like his fellows in government offices, he has been hard pressed economically as the war has gone on and on. He has suffered far more than millions of Chinese and far less than other millions.

Before the war, Teng had a remunerative job in a business firm in Shanghai. He drew $300 Chinese a month, which was the equivalent of $100 American. He paid $28 for a room in an apartment house and $30 for food–often eating fish and chicken, which were comparatively expensive–sent another $30 to his father in North China, and spent the rest of his income on clothes, incidentals, luxuries, and amusements. Continue reading

The Traditional Roots of Parental Pressure and Academic Success in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan

song_imperial_examination

Song Dynasty Imperial Examination, 11th century illustration (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Chinese state media once called China a “world superpower in stress“. According to a 2012 survey, 75% of Chinese workers are stressed, compared with 47% in the United States, 42% in the United Kingdom, and 58% in Germany. Over 70% percent of Chinese white-collar workers suffer from overwork, which poses a serious risk to their health. China Daily cites rising home prices, long working hours, overtime work and living costs as the main sources of stress.

A survey showed that almost 70% of Chinese women believe that a man must have a house and earn more than 4,000 yuan (USD 634) a month in order to have a relationship with a woman and eventually ask for marriage. “The concept of marriage in China is becoming more practical nowadays,” China Daily quoted a Shanghai professor as saying. “No matter how self-confident a woman is, she will feel she is losing face if her boyfriend or husband doesn’t have a home.” Continue reading

Directness, Hierarchy and Social Roles in Chinese Culture

Social hierarchies, “face” and etiquette have traditionally played an important role in Chinese society. These elements of social interaction are reflected in the way people talk and act. In particular, it has been argued that Chinese people “are much more vague and indirect than Westerners”. One may find such views even in authoritative news outlets. For instance, in an article published in The New York Times in 2009, a professor was quoted as saying that “Americans often perceive the Chinese as indecisive, less confident and not tough enough, whereas the Chinese may see Americans as rude or inconsiderate.”

But is this assessment true? Are Chinese people really less direct than Westerners? Or is directness simply related to social roles in different ways? In the present article we shall examine how the network of rigid relationships, of formalities and duties that bind people together in Chinese society shapes communication and social behaviour in a way that differs from the West.

Continue reading

The 228 Incident – The Uprising that Changed Taiwan’s History

228 Incident (The Terrible Inspection), circa 1947, by Li Jun
At 11:00 A.M. of February 27, 1947, Taipei City’s Monopoly Bureau was informed that a boat carrying fifty boxes of illegal matches and cigarettes had arrived near the port of Danshui, north of Taipei. Matches and cigarettes were part of the system of government monopolies set up by the Guomindang regime after the Republic of China (ROC) had taken over the administration of Taiwan from the Japanese in 1945. Only traders with a special government license were allowed to sell them.
A team of investigators was dispatched to Taiping Street (present-day Yanping North Road) where it was thought the smuggled items would be sold. But there was no trace of the dealers. Instead, the investigators bumped into a street vendor, a forty-year-old widow. The officials, believing that the woman was selling contraband goods, confiscated the cigarettes. She resisted. “If you confiscate everything,” she said, “I will not be able to eat. At least let me have my money and the cigarettes provided by the Monopoly Bureau.”

One of the investigators hit her on the head with the butt of his gun. The woman’s daughter began to cry, and soon a crowd of angry citizens gathered around the officers, demanding that the men returned the cigarettes to the woman. One of the officers panicked and shot in the crowd, killing a man.

This episode led to violent protests, which the understaffed Taipei police forces were unable to handle. While the Japanese had 208,480 military and police personnel, in 1947 the Nationalist government had only around 10,000 police officers on the whole island (see: Tse-Han Lai / Ramon H. Myers / O. Wei: A Tragic Beginning: The Taiwan Uprising of February 28, 1947, 1991, p. 89). On 28 February 1947, the police tried to suppress the revolt and fired in the crowd, killing several people.

The protests turned into a popular uprising that channeled the dissatisfaction of many Taiwanese people with the corruption, inefficiency and arrogance of the Guomindang administration. On March 7 (other sources say March 9), Nationalist troops landed in Keelung (Jilong). They brutally suppressed the uprising and killed thousands of people. An American reporter in Nanjing, then capital of the ROC, related eyewitnesses’ accounts of the massacre.

An American who had just arrived in China from Taihoku [Taipei] said that troops from the mainland arrived there March 7 and indulged in three days of indiscriminate killing and looting. For a time everyone seen on the streets was shot at, homes were broken into and occupants killed. In the poorer sections the streets were said to have been littered with dead. There were instances of beheadings and mutilation of bodies, and women were raped, the American said. Two foreign women, who were near at Pingtung near Takao [Kaohsiung], called the actions of the Chinese soldiers there a “massacre.”

They said unarmed Formosans [Taiwanese] took over the administration of the town peacefully on March 4 and used the local radio station to caution against violence.Chinese were well received and invited to lunch with the Formosan leaders.Later a bigger group of soldiers came and launched a sweep through the streets. The people were machine gunned. Groups were rounded up and executed. The man who had served as the town’s spokesman was killed. His body was left for a day in a park and no one was permitted to remove it.

In a speech made on March 10, China’s leader Chiang Kai-shek defended the government’s decision to put down what he described as a “disturbance” caused by “evil persons” and by a “Japanese-style deceit”:

Since our recovery of Taiwan last year, the central government regarded the state of the harmony and order in Taiwan as very satisfactory, and we did not send troops to be stationed there … [The] spirit of patriotism and self- respect [of the Taiwanese] is no different from that of the Chinese people in other provinces. Recently, however, some people formerly mobilized by the Japanese and sent to the Southeast Asian theater to fight–and some Communists among them–took advantage of the Monopoly Bureau’s smuggling case to promote their own ends and create a disturbance. 

[On] March 7, the so-called February 28th Incident Resolution Committee unexpectedly made some irrational demands. That committee demanded that the government abolish the Taiwan Garrison Command Headquarters, that the Nationalist forces surrender their weapons, and that all security organs and the army and navy be staffed only with Taiwanese. These demands go beyond the jurisdiction of the local administration, and the central government cannot accept them. Moreover, yesterday many people illegally attacked government administrative organs.

Because these incidents have repeatedly happened, the central government has decided to dispatch a military force to Taiwan to maintain security. It has been reported that a military force already has safely landed in Keelung and that harmony has been restored.

After the indiscriminate butchering perpetrated by the army, a period of organised suppression of real or presumed dissent to the regime began. “China put down the revolt with brutal repression, terror, and massacre,” wrote Peggy Durdin on May 24, 1947. “Mainland soldiers and police fired first killing thousands indiscriminately; then, more selectively, hunted down and jailed or slaughtered students, intellectuals, prominent business men, and civic leaders.”

 

Continue reading

Civilized Taiwanese vs Uncivilized Mainlanders: Peng Mingmin and Anti-Chinese Rhetoric

In recent years it has become common both in Taiwan and in Hong Kong to portray mainland Chinese as backward and uncivilized. Some controversial episodes that were covered by the media have shaped this perception. Only to name a few, in 2014 a mainland couple allowed their child to urinate on a street in Hong Kong; one year earlier, a mainland Chinese mother let her child defecate in a public area at Taiwan’s Kaohsiung Airport. Besides such incidents, mainlanders are often accused of behaving badly in other circumstances, too; for instance, they speak loudly, don’t line up, obstruct pedestrian traffic, etc.
   
In the present article we will try to show that the anti-mainland rhetoric based on mainlanders’ backwardness has a long history. A Taste of Freedom, the autobiography of Taiwan independence leader Peng Mingmin, is perhaps the first example of a consciously constructed anti-mainland rhetoric based on the contrast between civilized Taiwanese and uncivilized Chinese.
 
As we explained in a previous article, Peng Mingmin (born in 1923) belonged to Taiwan’s elite during Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945). He believed that the Japanese administration had brought modernity, economic development and efficiency to Taiwan. Long before Taiwan was returned to Chinese rule in 1945, Peng Mingmin and his parents travelled to Republican China. Looking back at his journey, Peng Mingmin described China as a backward, underdeveloped country that lagged behind Taiwan: 

Continue reading

“The House of Lim” and the Myth of the Harmonious Chinese Family

In 1959 the renowned American anthropologist and sinologist Arthur P. Wolf went on a study trip to Taiwan with his wife Margery. They spent two years in the house of the Lims, a “joint” family who lived in a small village in the countryside. Living side by side for a long period of time with a traditional Taiwanese family allowed the American couple to gain deep insight into the society and culture of the island.

This experience prompted Margery Wolf to write an account of those years, a book that is today almost forgotten, like many other great books, but which, more than fifty years after its publication, is still worth reading.

The House of Lim describes the life of rural Taiwan at a time when the modernization of its economy and society was still in its infancy. She depicts a world in which the old Confucian family system dominated life in an almost totalitarian way. Individuals were embedded in a network of relationships based on formality, hierarchy, social roles, and obligations. Continue reading

Sources of the Taiping Rebellion: The Deposition of Li Xiucheng

On July 19, 1864, after a months-long siege, the city of Nanjing, the capital of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (太平天國; pinyin: Tàipíng Tiānguó), was stormed by forces of the Qing imperial army. This was the last act in the bloodiest civil war of all time. From its beginning in 1850 until 1864, when it ended, the civil strife caused the death of at least 20 million people.

It all started in the 1840s, when the “God Worshippers”, a group of insurgents led by Hong Xiuquan, a political and religious leader who claimed to be a Christian prophet and Jesus’ brother, began to conquer vast territories in the rich and fertile southern provinces of the empire. Their aim was to overthrow the Manchu government in Beijing and establish a new dynasty. But in the end, all the suffering and sacrifices came to naught. The armies of the rebels were defeated, and the Heavenly Kingdom collapsed. The Qing dynasty remained in power, but it was as weak as ever. The prestige of the Manchu rulers was gone. Besieged by economic and social decay, foreign aggression, corruption and inefficiency, the Qing state managed to survive for nearly four decades, until they were overthrown by Sun Yat-sen‘s revolutionaries in 1911 (Sun regarded the Taiping as predecessors of his own anti-Manchu insurgence).

In the summer of 1864 Nanjing was at the mercy of the victors. The imperial troops looted, murdered, raped, and enslaved the civilians who had survived the siege, regardless of age and gender. Even the commander of the imperial army, Zeng Guoquan (曾国荃 / 曾國荃; pinyin: Zēng Guóquán), was disgusted by the brutality of his soldiers. “Children and toddlers,” he wrote, “some not even two years old, had been hacked up or run through just for sport.” He had prohibited acts of violence, but there was nothing he could do to rein in the fury and greed of his army (see Stephen R. Platt: Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War, 2012, Chapter 16).

Continue reading

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Racial Discrimination in the United States

Introduction

“Money monopoly,” said Denis Kearney in a 1878 address,  “has reached its grandest proportions. Here, in San Francisco, the palace of the millionaire looms up above the hovel of the starving poor with as wide a contrast as anywhere on earth. To add to our misery and despair, a bloated aristocracy has sent to China—the greatest and oldest despotism in the world—for a cheap working slave. It rakes the slums of Asia to find the meanest slave on earth—the Chinese coolie—and imports him here to meet the free American in the Labor market, and still further widen the breach between the rich and the poor, still further to degrade white Labor.”

Denis Kearney (1847–1907) was a leader of the American labour movement, a demagogue who blamed Chinese immigrants for the economic woes of the Californian working class.

What is a demagogue? According to Reinhard H. Luthin, it is “a politician skilled in oratory, flattery, and invective; evasive in discussing vital issues; promising everything to everybody; appealing to the passions rather than the reason of the public; and arousing racial, religious, and class prejudices” (Reinhard H. Luthin: American Demagogues: Twentieth Century, 1954, p. 3).

Kearney did not create anti-Chinese sentiment. The fear and prejudices against this particular group of immigrants were strong among white people in the United States, so strong that one can find them in numerous speeches by politicians throughout the 19th and early 20th century, as well as in literature.

One fascinating example of anti-Chinese feelings in the US is the science fiction short story by American author Jack London entitled “The Unparalleled Invasion“. In this dystopian story he articulated the fear of the “white man” being overrun by hordes of Chinese, of Western civilization and power being undermined by Asia. He imagined a future in which China, after learning from Japan how to develop economically and technologically, would pose a threat to European Empires in the East and outnumber “white people”. London wrote:

China’s swift and remarkable rise was due, perhaps more than to anything else, to the superlative quality of her labour. The Chinese was the perfect type of industry. He had always been that. For sheer ability to work no worker in the world could compare with him. Work was the breath of his nostrils. It was to him what wandering and fighting in far lands and spiritual adventure had been to other peoples. Liberty, to him, epitomized itself in access to the means of toil. To till the soil and labour interminably was all he asked of life and the powers that be. And the awakening of China had given its vast population not merely free and unlimited access to the means of toil, but access to the highest and most scientific machine-means of toil. China rejuvenescent! It was but a step to China rampant. She discovered a new pride in herself and a will of her own…

This passage shows one core element of “sinophobia” (fear of the Chinese): the Chinese people’s capacity for hard work and self-sacrifice, which appeared to the “white man” almost inhuman. Let us now  examine another excerpt:  Continue reading